The Vatican is currently preparing two documents on so-called “gender theory”, revealed the secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani, March 12 at a conference in Rome. The first will be published in the form of a letter addressed to the bishops of the world and will be ready in coming weeks, said the prelate, adding that this missive “will not enter into the heart of the debate” but will limit itself to restating “important educational principles”. A second, “deeper” document on the anthropology of “gender theory” – without a release date as yet – is also being prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
What kinds of things are these two documents likely to touch on, and why should they matter? At the conference last Monday in Rome, Zani limited his introduction of them to the warning issued by the Synod of Bishops on the Family in 2015 – taken up by Pope Francis in his Amoris laetitia (56) – that:
“gender” [sic] ideology… denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without gender differences, thereby removing the anthropological foundation of the family. This ideology leads to education programmes and legislative guidelines which promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female…”
to which view Francis responds, again following the bishops, that “it needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender; read gender stereotypes) can be distinguished but not separated‘” (my emphasis).
“Gender theory” and domestic violence
It seems more than likely, then, that both Vatican documents on “gender theory” will reaffirm much the same principles. That sexual identity is given in nature, not culture; that parents have the right to educate their children in this biological vision of sexuality; that “gender ideology” is but a cover for the introduction of “anti-family” policies such as same-sex marriage, etc. But what about the idea that “sex and gender”, if they can’t be separated, can be “distinguished”?That the Church needs to compromise on its fierce opposition to “gender theory” is well-demonstrated by the slow passage through Eastern Europe in particular of the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe, on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Though they have signed the Convention, countries from the Czech Republic to Bulgaria have yet to ratify its commitment to “protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence” simply because the Convention understands the “structural nature of violence against women as gender-based violence, and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men”. Simply because, in other words, the document revolves around the principle of “gender” rather than that of “sex”, with “gender” understood as the combination of “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men”. And as has been amply documented, much of that opposition to the Convention in Eastern Europe comes from the Catholic Church.
If the Church is serious, then, about combatting domestic violence, the two documents soon to drop from the Vatican must find more theoretical leeway between “distinguishing” and “separating” sex and gender. And this time there can be no excuse that this idea is another of Pope Francis’ inventions in Amoris laetitia – as is, supposedly, the idea that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion – given that the “distinguishing” between “sex” and “gender” was defined as a “Christian principle” by the Family Synod Fathers.